BBC Content Team
Finance: The Basics of Options
Updated: Sep 14, 2019
Options are powerful because they can enhance an individual’s portfolio. They do this through added income, protection, and even leverage. Depending on the situation, there is usually an option scenario appropriate for an investor’s goal. A popular example would be using options as an effective hedge against a declining stock market to limit downside losses. Options can also be used to generate recurring income. Additionally, they are often used for speculative purposes such as wagering on the direction of a stock.
Furthermore, options are derivatives of financial securities – their value depends on the price of some other asset. That is essentially what the term, derivative, means. There are many different types of securities that fall under the label of derivative, including calls, puts, futures, forwards, swaps (of which there are many types), and mortgage-backed securities, among many others. In the 2008 crisis, mortgage-backed securities and a particular type of swap caused all the trouble. Options were largely blameless.
If you buy an options contract, it grants you the right, but not the obligation to buy or sell an underlying asset at a set price on or before a certain date. A call option gives the holder the right to buy stock and a put option gives the holder the right to sell stock. A call option is basically a down-payment for a future purpose. In addition, it is crucial to remember that call holders and put holders (buyers) are not obligated to buy or sell. They have the choice to exercise their rights. This limits the risk of buyers of options to only the premium spent. Call writers and put writers (sellers), however, are obligated to buy or sell if the option expires in-the-money (more on that below). This means that a seller may be required to make good on a promise to buy or sell. It also implies that option sellers have exposure to more, and in some cases unlimited, risks. This means writers can lose much more than the price of the options premium.
By: Seetha Murugappan